Rick Scott Archives - Florida Politics

Proposal to expand grandparents visitation rights temporarily postponed

Placing a constitutional amendment up for a vote can be problematic when the proposal itself might be unconstitutional.

That’s what Lisa Carlton, the chair of the Constitutional Revision Commission’s Declaration of Rights Committee, concluded on Tuesday, when she said she could not support expanding the rights of grandparents to visit their grandchildren.

“I think that the basic flaw of the proposal is that it is changing the constitution,” said Carlton, a former state legislator.

The measure was proposed by St. Petersburg state Sen. Darryl Rouson, one of three Democrats on the 37-member CRC panel. It would have changed the Constitution to specify that the right of privacy may not be construed to limit a grandparent’s right to seek visitation of his or her grandchildren under certain circumstances, but was temporarily postponed when it didn’t appear to have support from the committee.

Florida rulings have consistently upheld that parents have the right to control who has access to their children.

But the Legislature passed and Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill in 2015 that allowed grandparents to tell family courts that they should be able to see their grandkids if both parents were dead, missing or in a persistent vegetative state. It also applied if one parent met any of the previous requirements and the other parent has been convicted of a felony.

In retrospect, however, Rouson said the bill was too narrow in scope, and still prohibited the majority of grandparents for having their visiting legal petitions considered in court.

“It’s narrowness has almost been limited to a nullity that it doesn’t even apply to a situation where it was the impetus for us to begin to work to pass it,” Rouson told the committee, before deciding that it didn’t have the votes to move forward.

The U.S. Supreme Court has also traditionally and continuously upheld the principle that parents have the fundamental right to direct the education and upbringing of their children. CRC board member John Stemberger said that knowing he couldn’t support the proposal.

“The problem with the proposal in my view is that the state puts itself the gatekeeper for parental decisions in determining what is in the best interests of the child versus not,” said Stemberger.

There were three members of the public who passionately called for the proposal to be accepted.

“We want the right to visit them” said Amanda Simon, the founder of Alienated Grandparents Anonymous International. “We want to be proactive. We don’t want just to be the victims.”

“Eight hundred thousand families of children are led by grandparents in this state. We give them nothing. No standing. No ability. That’s not what the federal right of privacy is all about,” said Marco Island-based attorney James Karl.

Karl called it “tragic” that the state stands alone when it comes to the rights of grandparents’ visitation rights.

“We give them nothing. No standing. No ability. That’s not what the federal right of privacy is all about,” Karl claimed.

Orlando grandmother Yvonne Stewart told the committee about how her daughter disappeared years ago and remains missing, while her daughter’s fiancé – the only suspect named by police in the case – has refused to let Steward see the couple’s twin children since the incident five years ago.

“How can a primary and only suspect for murder who takes the Fifth get the upper hand?” she asked the committee. “I need your help so that we don’t run in the stop sign, the Constitution as it’s written now.”

Tallahassee family attorney Shannon Novey provided expert testimony to the committee on previous legal rulings on the issue. She said there was a serious problem with giving standing to grandparents, but not other “third-parties” with established relationships with children, which she said was involution with the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment.

“The amendment says that solely that grandparents have this carve out and not other relatives or third-parties,” Novey said, adding that other relatives, as well as non-biological parents would be excluded under the same rationale.

Carlton said the way to change the law was through the Legislature, not the Constitution. “You are talking about enshrining something in the Constitution that is very, very dangerous to do in this situation.”

Ultimately, the proposal was temporarily postponed, with Rouson vowing to fight for it on a later day.

Denise Grimsley proposes generator tax reform

A Senate Republican on Tuesday proposed creating a tax exemption for generators installed at nursing homes and assisted-living facilities.

The proposal (SB 1246), filed by Sebring Republican Sen. Denise Grimsley is similar to a measure (HB 803) filed last month by Rep. Rick Roth, a Loxahatchee Republican.

The bills, which will be considered during the 2018 Legislative Session, come as nursing homes and assisted-living facilities look at carrying out generator requirements pushed by Gov. Rick Scott.

Both bills would create a sales-tax exemption for emergency-electrical equipment at nursing homes and assisted-living facilities, with the exemption capped at $30,000.

Scott’s administration moved forward with the regulations after eight residents of a sweltering Broward County nursing home died Sept. 13, three days after Hurricane Irma knocked out the facility’s air-conditioning system.

Nursing homes and assisted-living facilities, however, have repeatedly raised concerns about the costs of installing generators and adding fuel supplies to meet the requirements.

After cutting murder plea deal, Aramis Ayala demands answers from Rick Scott

The ongoing conflict between Orlando’s State Attorney Aramis Ayala and Gov. Rick Scott over her death penalty policies took another turn as Ayala cut a murder deal with a suspect that avoids a death penalty then answered the governor’s questions by asking her own questions.

Scott and Ayala, state attorney for Florida’s 9th Judicial Circuit, have been battling, at high stakes, since March when she first announced she would not seek capital punishment. Yet even since the Florida Supreme Court told her she cannot take that position and she relented, the conflict continues.

It’s now in a war of public records requests and information demands. Part of that has to do with the case of Emerita Mapp, who would have been Ayala’s first death penalty case. Scott charged Ayala missed a critical deadline, blowing a capital punishment prosecution. Ayala denied that, but then on Friday cut a plea bargain with Mapp in which she pleaded guilty in exchange for a life sentence in an April slaying in Kissimmee.

Last week Scott’s General Counsel Daniel Nordby demanded detailed reports on how Ayala’s death penalty review process operated, and why she missed the deadline, and what she would do about it. Her response Monday continued to deny that the capital punishment case was compromised, and once again charged that the governor himself missed the case back when he was reassigning all potential death penalty cases to another state attorney.

“I would like to know what method/procedure you used in determining which cases you decided to take from my office,” Ayala wrote the governor on Monday.

She made it a records request. And she informed the governor that she had forwarded Nordby’s requests for information to her own public records department.

Governor’s office weighs how to replace Public Service Commission seat

Gov. Rick Scott‘s staff has not determined how to fill a Public Service Commission seat after the withdrawal of an appointee who was accused by an influential senator of sexually inappropriate behavior.

Scott said Monday it remains unclear if the Public Service Commission Nominating Council will have to restart the search process or if a name can be selected from among other finalists proposed by the council in August.

“I’ve been talking to our general counsel’s office to understand exactly how it’s going to work,” Scott said after a meeting with community leaders in Gadsden County.

Ritch Workman, a former state House member who was supposed to join the Public Service Commission on Jan. 2, walked away this month from the appointment, which would have required Senate confirmation.

His decision came after Senate Rules Chairwoman Lizbeth Benacquisto, a Fort Myers Republican, said she would not put Workman’s appointment on her committee’s agenda because of his “abhorrent” behavior to her last year.

Workman, a Melbourne Republican, had been selected by Scott in September to replace Commissioner Ronald Brise on the five-member commission. Members are paid $131,000-a-year. Brise, who was on the short list of candidates from the nominating council, has been on the utility-regulatory board since 2010.

Joe Negron supports Rick Scott on ‘job growth’ fund

Senate President Joe Negron backs a still-untapped $85 million “job growth” fund created this year, as Democrats continue to question the need to replenish what critics have called a “slush fund” for the governor.

Negron, a Stuart Republican, offered support for Gov. Rick Scott‘s 2018 budget request to set aside another $85 million for the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund. Negron was less specific about whether lawmakers should meet Scott’s request to spend $100 million on the tourism-marketing agency Visit Florida.

“I’ve always been supportive of the Job Growth Fund and supportive of the governor’s economic development initiatives,” Negron said Friday during an interview with The News Service of Florida. “With regard to Visit Florida, the exact amount I’ll leave up to the individual committees and members to make that decision. But I don’t think you can argue with the results.”

Scott’s tourism-marketing request would represent a $24 million increase from the current year, an increase that has drawn skepticism from some lawmakers.

Visit Florida President and CEO Ken Lawson said Wednesday before the House Transportation & Tourism Appropriations Subcommittee that the agency has seen annual visitor counts grow from 87.3 million in 2011 to more than 112 million last year, in part because of lawmakers boosting the public-private agency’s funding from $35 million in 2011 to $76 million in the current fiscal year.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican, has argued in the past that people are motivated to travel more by their personal finances than by state marketing. But the increased visitor numbers seemed to hold some sway for Negron.

“From the meetings I’m having with tourism officials throughout the state, they report a very strong industry,” Negron said. “I’ll let other folks determine the amount. But apparently what we’re doing is working. I certainly don’t want to unilaterally disarm in the tourism space. That’s a very important part of our economy, and we’re competing with the rest of the world.”

Meanwhile, several Democratic members of the Senate Transportation, Tourism and Economic Development Appropriations Subcommittee said Thursday they’d like to see how the money in the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund is used before agreeing it should be replenished next year.

“You expect us to grant this request before we have any information on the outcome from what you’re proposing,” Sen. Perry Thurston, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, said.

Among the concerns is how the grants may be spread across the state.

“I know that in my community there has been some proposals, but if it turns out that you put all of those projects in Sen. (Bill) Galvano’s (Manatee and Hillsborough counties) district and none in mine, then how are we going to address that if we’ve already voted to give you an additional $85 million,” Thurston said, referring to another member of the subcommittee.

The program, created in June during a special Session, had attracted 217 proposals worth a combined $791 million as of last Tuesday.

The fund, established as a compromise to Scott’s initial request for Enterprise Florida to get $85 million to help attract businesses to Florida, requires the money go to regional projects rather than single businesses.

Among the largest requests:

— Hillsborough County, Apollo Beach Boulevard extension. A $33.6 million project along the “I-75 Job Corridor” linking U.S. 41 and U.S. 301 over the interstate. Request: $23 million.

— State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota STEM campus. The proposal seeks money to help secure land and make other improvements needed to support a campus. Request: $22.44 million.

— Marion County, Crossroads Commerce Park. The $272 million project, encompassing more than 900 acres, is envisioned as having distribution, warehouse and manufacturing facilities. Request: $22.24 million.

Cissy Proctor, executive director of the state Department of Economic Opportunity, defended the pace of the application review process.

Proctor said Thursday the department, reviewing the proposals with Enterprise Florida, will make recommendations for the governor to consider “as appropriate.”

We are “working as fast as we can, but understanding that we need to have accountability,” Proctor said. “We have to have strong contracts around these proposals. We need to have strong return on investment.”

Proctor said money allocated for a specific budget year would be available for five years but only toward the projects approved in that fiscal year.

Joe Negron backs aid for agriculture industry

Florida lawmakers should provide financial help to the agriculture industry to aid its recovery from Hurricane Irma, the Senate president said Friday.

Without putting a price tag on the state’s contribution, Senate President Joe Negron appeared to favor tax cuts and mitigation measures rather than loans. He pointed to major damage sustained by citrus growers but also said assistance should go to other parts of the agriculture industry.

“I do think the effect of the hurricane was so catastrophic to the citrus industry that it merits the government, the state government, partnering with the industry to make sure that they can continue to thrive,” Negron said during an interview with The News Service of Florida.

Negron said Sen. Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican who is slated to become the next Senate president, and Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Denise Grimsley, a Sebring Republican, are expected to work on the issue.

Some lawmakers have already started to advance their own hurricane-recovery proposals for the 2018 Legislative Session, which starts in January.

The state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services in early October released an estimate that the agriculture industry had sustained $2.5 billion in damage from Hurricane Irma, with $761 million in citrus-industry losses.

But many lawmakers think the losses will be much higher than the October projection.

Rep. Ben Albritton, a Wauchula Republican who is a citrus grower, has outlined several proposed tax exemptions for the industry as part of recommendations submitted to the House Select Committee on Hurricane Response and Preparedness.

Albritton’s proposals include tax exemptions for material used to repair or replace damaged fences and structures and for fuel used to transport crops during an emergency. He also called for a reduction in the tangible personal property tax for farm equipment affected by the storm.

Meanwhile, Port Charlotte Republican Rep. Michael Grant has suggested a tax exemption for the purchase of generators used on farms.

Negron said he doesn’t anticipate that hurricane-relief spending will displace other legislative priorities in the upcoming 60-day Session.

“I still think there will be room for environmental priorities, educational priorities,” Negron said. “I don’t think the hurricane spending will necessarily mean that there are other things that simply can’t be done.”

Gov. Rick Scott has asked for $21 million to help citrus growers as part of his budget requests for the 2018 Legislative Session.

Scott wants the money to include $10 million for citrus research, $4 million for marketing and $7 million for post-storm relief.

Irma made landfall Sept. 10 in the Keys and in Collier County before plowing up the state, including causing extensive damage in agricultural areas.

Along with the projected $761 million in citrus-industry losses, the October report from the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services estimated nursery-industry losses from Irma at almost $624 million. The cattle industry damage assessment was $237.5 million, while the dairy industry was estimated to have $11.8 million in losses.

The sugar industry appeared to have $383 million in damage, with an estimated 534,324 acres affected. Vegetable and fruit growers — excluding citrus — were projected to have $180 million in damage, with an estimated 163,679 acres impacted by the storm.

The storm damages compounded misery for the citrus industry, which has struggled for a decade with citrus greening, an incurable bacterial disease.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has projected that Florida’s citrus industry is on pace to grow 27 percent fewer oranges and 40 percent fewer grapefruit than in the past growing season.

State leaders, such as Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, have been disappointed that Florida’s farmers and ranchers haven’t been addressed in a series of congressional disaster-relief package put together in response to Irma, Hurricane Harvey in Texas, Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and California wildfires.

House projects might get chilly reception

Heading into the 2018 legislative session, Senate Appropriations Chairman Rob Bradley says the House and Senate are not as far apart as casual observers, lobbyists and the media might believe.

“We agree on so much more than we disagree on,” the Fleming Island Republican told reporters after an Appropriations Committee meeting Wednesday that featured an overview of Gov. Rick Scott‘s proposed $87.4 billion budget. “We’re all committed to having a fiscally conservative budget. We’re all committed to tax cuts. We’re all committed to the environment being pristine and education world class.”

But that “we’re all” doesn’t apparently extend to a plethora of budget projects proposed by House members. In the House, unlike the Senate, members are required to file individual bills for their spending proposals.

“I did notice that there is a high amount, the House members want to spend a lot on local member projects,” Bradley said. “I think we need to be very careful in this budget year to … be very judicious in these House requests for local projects, because they have requested a bunch.”

As of Thursday morning, House members had filed 1,099 different proposals – collectively worth just under $1.8 billion – since Sept. 29.

Included in those totals are 90 projects, worth $161.1 million, that were posted on Wednesday, including $450,000 for the Clermont South Lake Wi-Fi Trail (HB 4099), $1 million for the Land O’ Lakes Boulevard Beautification plan (HB 4033) and $50 million for the Data Science and Information Technology program at the University of Florida (HB 4063).

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican, has said priority for funding projects will go to proposals related to hurricane relief.

The House Select Committee on Hurricane Response and Preparedness also has received 141 recommendations to deal with storm-related issues, included extending north the Suncoast Parkway toll road as a new evacuation route, leasing a cruise ship to carry evacuees from the lower Keys or requiring utility lines to be placed underground.

The member budget proposals are separate from most of the recommendations before the select committee.

Asked during an appearance Wednesday on C-SPAN about how much Hurricane Irma will cost the state, Corcoran made the big-ticket items seem possible as he touted the state’s fiscal health.

“The simple answer to that is we have the reserves. We’ve been fiscally prudent. We’ve been great protectors of the taxpayer money,” Corcoran said. “And so, because we have those reserves, what’s more important is the lives of our citizens are protected.”

“The underground hardening of our infrastructure for power lines, that could cost some money,” he continued. “Extending our Suncoast Parkway all the way to Georgia and having that fourth arterial road, that will cost money but we have a transportation trust fund. It will just be more of a redirect, potentially.

“Obviously, putting the (proposed generator) regulations on the nursing homes and having them come into compliance, that will cost some money. But all of these things, including, we’re even talking of having a gas reserve. There were issues of getting gas during the hurricane, so if we had a huge gas reserve that we could keep in the middle of the state in a protected area, that could cost some money.

“But all of these things will make it so the next storm we have we’ll be better prepared, and our citizens will be able to get back to their lives as quickly as possible.”

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Details sparse on Rick Scott meeting with Israeli PM

One of the highlights of Florida Gov. Rick Scott‘s trip to Israel was a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

But if you were looking for meaningful information out of the Governor’s Office on it, you would be disappointed.

“Governor Scott and Prime Minister Netanyahu discussed ways to strengthen ties between Florida and Israel during an hour long meeting,” asserted Lauren Schenone Thursday on behalf of the Governor.

We, of course, wanted to know more.

Among our questions: what specifics were discussed with the PM regarding future ties/investment between Israel/Florida.

And — given that Gov. Scott took a position before the trip that the US embassy should be moved to Jerusalem, as the President ultimately asserted — we wanted to know if that was discussed also.

If it was, we didn’t find out.

Tipping off what President Donald Trump would do, Gov. Scott asserted the following late last month.

“I strongly believe that the U.S. Embassy belongs in Jerusalem and I am hopeful that a decision will be made to finally move the embassy to the its rightful destination in Israel’s capital city,” Scott said in a press release with a Jacksonville dateline, even as he gave no hints of this position while talking to media in the city.

Scott expanded on his position while in Israel, per the Jerusalem Post.

“It’s the capital of Israel, our embassy ought to be located there,” Governor Scott told The Jerusalem Post on Monday. “We passed legislation… and we need to comply with the legislation instead of the waivers.”

Scott reiterated his position after a question from a Post reporter:  “I believe the embassy ought to be in Jerusalem. That’s what I’m going to support.”

As protests rage in the city regarding the position, and as many world leaders have come forth opposing the move, it would be interesting to know more about a position framed as a provocation by American allies and rivals alike.

Per the Post, Scott was more comfortable — no surprise to Florida reporters — with discussion of jobs and economic ties.

“There are a lot of people in Florida who are very financially supportive of Israel,” Scott told the Post. “They’re constantly calling me and letting me know that we have to do more business with Israel.”

Scott also explained his opposition to the BDS Movement, which calls for boycott, divestment, and sanctions, to Israeli press.

“It’s disgusting that people think about doing that. Israel is a sovereign nation; Israel deserves to be respected like everybody else. There should be no antisemitism in the world. I’m going to do everything I can to stand with Israel.”

All of that is helpful insight.

But the questions about specifics from the meeting of Gov. Scott and PM Netanyahu remain.

Jacksonville Bold for 12.8.17 — Progress report

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry took a victory lap on Facebook this week.

“2.5 years in office. Much done- pension reform, public safety investments, board reforms, reforms on how we serve kids, storm prep & relief, infrastructure, etc. The list goes on. However, that’s yesterday. I’m focused on winning today. Big things ahead. Love y’all Duval. We are just getting started.”

 

None of this was a given.

Pension reform was a heavy lift both in Tallahassee and locally, with unions and the city council.

Board reforms saw Curry castigated by former Alvin Brown supporters, who charged him with politicizing the boards.

Public safety — the new hires are being trained up and integrated into the force. However, that is still clearly a work in progress.

But still, Curry can take credit for a lot in just over half a term.

In a time when Tallahassee is mired in the Jack Latvala drama and Washington D.C. struggles to get what passes for tax “reform” through, it’s telling that Jacksonville’s Mayor is positioned to take a victory lap.

Though there are rivals to the Mayor who say that perhaps he gets too much credit — both in Jacksonville and Tallahassee — thus far he hasn’t had many missteps.

Could JEA privatization be a bridge too far? Or the proposed $18M+ purchase of land for a Peter Rummell development.

Time will tell. And so will Jacksonville Bold.

One Door to the slammer

After a legal ordeal lasting the better part of two years, Corrine Brown and her two co-conspirators in the One Door for Education case — former chief of staff Ronnie Simmons and the former CEO of the charity, Carla Wiley — were sentenced.

No one got off easy.

“A sentence of probation for a member of Congress convicted of 18 counts would not be sufficient,” Judge Timothy Corrigan said.

No one got off easy.

Brown got 60 months in prison, three years of supervised release, $62,650 to the IRS, and $452,000 of additional restitution, and $664,000 of forfeiture.

Brown will appeal, though attorney James Smith has yet to determine if he will see that appeal through.

Simmons and Wiley, meanwhile, got lesser sentences.

Wiley got 21 months in prison, three years of supervised release, $452,515 in restitution is also owed, along with a $654,000 forfeiture judgment.

Simmons, meanwhile, got 48 months in prison, three years of supervised release, $452,000 of restitution and an additional $91,000 to the House of Representatives for pay for a phony employee of Brown’s staff. An additional $721,000 of forfeiture is due.

Travis Hutson on Jack Latvala: ‘Napalm and matches’

It was inevitable that Republican senators would have to weigh in on the ongoing war between Republican Sen. Latvala and Rachel Perrin Rogers, a Senate aide accusing him of serial sexual harassment.

Via POLITICO, one of the first was from Northeast Florida: Sen. Hutson of St. Johns County.

Republican senators are joining calls for Sen. Jack Latvala to resign in light of scandal.

“This highly respected and regarded establishment is being burnt to the ground, and I feel Senator Latvala is running around with the Napalm and the matches,” Hutson told POLITICO.

“This is only going to get worse. And the best thing for everyone — every senator, every staffer, every accuser and/or accused — would be a resignation so that we do not have to deal with this problem anymore,” Hutson said.

Hutson also told POLITICO that donors to Latvala’s political committee should ask for refunds.

There is a school of thought that Latvala may use his committee to exact revenge against clients of Brian Hughes — Perrin Rogers’ husband. Hutson’s comments seem to indicate that strategy could be undermined by a wave of refunds and a bipartisan condemnation of Latvala.

Meanwhile, Sen. Audrey Gibson — a Democrat — was somewhat more circumspect than Latvala.

 “First,” Gibson said, “I have continually maintained my sensitivity and support of women who believe they have been harassed in any way by anyone, being able to come forward and file a complaint. Secondly, Senator Latvala and/or Republican Leadership are the determinants on resignation matters.”

Cord Byrd’s fix for a ‘broken system’

A new bill in the Florida House would offer a vehicle for people with “legal disabilities” a road via circuit courts to the restoration of civil rights.

HB 903, filed by Jacksonville Beach Rep. Byrd, would offer remedies for those whose civil rights were suspended after felony convictions.

Cord Byrd introduced this bill Wednesday, holding a presser to push it.

“Currently,” Byrd wrote on Facebook, “the average wait time for Restoration of Rights is over nine years, with some as long as 11 years. Over 22,000 applications are pending, with only a few hundred being processed each year. Clearly, the system is broken.”

The Byrd bill allows those seeking restoration of rights to petition their county’s circuit court; exceptions to this rule would be registered sexual predators or sexual offenders.

Appeals are possible, and those petitioners who find their bids rejected have the right to file anew a year after said rejection.

Some people wait decades to get their rights back, long after they have proved that the threat they once posed to society has been removed.

Byrd’s bill would be a potential corrective to these onerous delays.

Jay Fant challenge to HRO?

Rep. Fant, a Jacksonville Republican who is also running for Attorney General, filed Tuesday what he calls the “Free Enterprise Protection Act.”

Jay Fant, in the AG race, may have to enforce his law should it pass, and should he win.

HB 871 would prevent “discriminatory action” by any governmental entity in the state against businesses.

Said discriminatory action would include attempts by government to “alter the tax treatment” of businesses, which would include imposing penalties against them for crimes unlisted in the legislation as filed.

It would also include attempts to deny or revoke a business’s exemption from taxation, as well as withholding or denying a business’s “access or entitlement” to property, including “speech forums.”

The bill would also prohibit governments in Florida from discriminating against “internal policies” of businesses, as well as the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of religion.

Fant’s bill, if passed, could be used as a springboard to challenge local laws that conflict with rights enumerated in the bill, including Jacksonville’s own Human Rights Ordinance.

The HRO, as it is called locally, was expanded in 2016 to include lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, protecting their rights in the workplace, in the housing market, and in public accommodations, such as restrooms and locker rooms.

Fant told Jacksonville Republicans earlier this year that Mayor Curry could have done more to stop that bill, which was approved by 2/3 of the City Council, from becoming law.

Plea deals for child deaths draw scrutiny in House bill

Legislation filed in the Florida House Monday would compel state attorneys to explain why they cut plea deals in cases where children were killed.

Rep. Tracie Davis’ bill is designed to provide more clarity in deaths from childhood abuse.

HB 867, filed by Jacksonville Democrat Tracie Davis, would require state attorneys to explain in writing why they accepted a plea deal to lesser charges and penalties than originally filed in the case of the death of a child.

On Tuesday morning, Davis told us that there are many cases in which children die at the hands of abusers, and that drove her to file this bill.

“The number of children dying by abuse is alarming and steadily increasing through our communities. As I worked with families, it was [disturbing] to discover that many perpetrators are given a plea deal to a lesser crime in order for them to reveal the details of the crime,” Davis said.

Often families are unaware of changes to the charges. Davis added.

“I strongly feel that families have the right to know when a charge involving a child killed in an abusive situation deserve to know why the charge was decreased,” Davis noted.

JYDs roll out ‘cocktails with a candidate’ series

The Democratic race for Governor is beginning to heat up, and the Jacksonville Young Democrats are offering chances to meet with candidates via cocktail mixers in the coming months.

Libations and orations: Democratic gubernatorial candidates this winter in Jax.

Democratic candidates thus far have largely concentrated their efforts south of I-4, but Jacksonville’s young Democrats are clearly looking to change that.

The “Cocktails with a Candidate” series kicks off Dec. 18 at 6:30 p.m. at downtown’s Zodiac Bar and Grill, with Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who appeared already at a JYD event in February.

Gillum — a pre-candidate at that point — discussed what his campaign would do to reach out to minority voters and young voters, as part of what he called an “18-month view of engagement” that would mobilize voters.

2018 brings — at least tentatively — two of Gillum’s opponents: Gwen Graham and Chris King to town.

Brian Hughes moves to Curry’s chief of staff

Comms specialist Hughes is — effective Jan. 2 — chief of staff for Mayor Curry, in a classic example of building something that lasts.

“To me and dozens of other elected officials, Brian Hughes has been a senior adviser on important matters of public policy and communications,” said Curry.

Brian Hughes, Lenny Curry’s new chief of staff.

“Working with me, Brian has already put a powerful imprint on our city’s future. From the pension solution to restructuring how we serve Jacksonville’s children with the Kids Hope Alliance, Brian applied his strengths to benefit this great city. I am honored to have him join my administration in a leadership role to help manage this successful team as we continue to accomplish big things,” Curry added.

City Council members — who will now have to work with Hughes in a different capacity — had a reaction.

Council President Anna Brosche said that “it’s my understanding that this is just formalizing how things have functioned for quite some time.”

Finance Chair Garrett Dennis, often the sole voice of opposition to Curry’s initiatives, expected a different hire.

“I thought Ali Korman Shelton was a shoo-in for the job. She has served the mayor and our city well. As a council member, I look forward to working with Mr. Hughes,” Dennis said.

That’s entertainment

Curry is closer to the big reveal of what his proposed downtown “entertainment district” will look like, per WJXT.

Ambitious plans from Lenny Curry.

“(The) riverfront. That’s where the Shipyards are. But also begin to think about an entire entertainment district moving a little bit north, between the football and baseball fields,” Curry said. “Just kind of a little teaser there. Big things could be coming.”

With a key rhetorical assist: Alan Verlander of the JaxSports Council.

“We need that fan district. We need a plug-and-play kind of place that people can go to. That’s the missing link here. You look at Nashville, look at Atlanta, you look at Dallas. Those places, they have destination points for their fans,” Verlander said. “We don’t have that here.”

“If they walk out the door and they see there’s things to do, they’re going to extend their stays for weekends around their conferences, and they’re going to have a great representation of Jacksonville,” added Visit Jacksonville VP Katie Mitura. “And when they leave, they are going to talk about the great time they had.”

Privatize, don’t criticize

The groundswell no one really predicted a month ago to privatize JEA continues to swell, per a Florida Times-Union dispatch.

Board chair Alan Howard gave CEO Paul McElroy 60-90 days to complete a report on such.

Outgoing board member Tom Petway made the pitch. Can Lenny Curry hit a home run?

“If, after what I anticipate will be a healthy debate, a decision is ultimately made to pursue privatization, that process will be open to all bidders so that we can achieve the best result possible for the citizens of Jacksonville and JEA’s customers,” Howard wrote.

T-U reported Nate Monroe notes that ratepayers may see savings: “The utility’s October survey of what other utilities charge showed a JEA residential customer pays $111.76 for 1,000 kilowatt-hours compared to $103.07 for a Florida Power & Light customer.”

We will see how it goes. The Mayor’s political operation is working this story hard, as a friendly dispatch in Sunshine State News indicated this week.

Kids Hope picks all but confirmed

To quote the departed Jim Nabors, “Surprise, surprise, surprise.”

The Jacksonville City Council Rules Committee did their best impression of Mayor’s Office staffers Tuesday, confirming six picks to the seven-person board of the nascent Kids Hope Alliance … with a seventh pick (Gary Chartrand?) held in abeyance.

Jacksonville City Council Rules Committee confirmed six picks to the seven-person board of Lenny Curry’s Kids Hope Alliance.

Rebekah Davis, a former member of the Jacksonville Children’s Commission board of directors; Kevin Gay, an earlier Jacksonville Journey board member; former Jacksonville Sheriff and current Edward Waters College President Nat Glover; Iraq War Bronze Star recipient Joe Peppers; and Tyra Tutor, a senior vice president at The Adecco Group North America.

The controversial (to some) choice: Marvin Wells, the first African-American graduate of the UF College of Dentistry. But not for reasons of qualifications.

Wells doesn’t live in Duval County — a clear requirement of the ordinance.

But rules are made to be broken, and the Rules Committee was happy to accommodate. Despite protestations from Councilman Garrett Dennis, who is not on Rules but was visiting the committee, Wells joined the rest on Tuesday’s Consent Agenda.

Shazam!

No more room at the morgue

The opioid overdose crisis in Jacksonville has taxed city resources on a number of fronts, including those not visible to the public, such as the Medical Examiner’s office.

Numerous city hall conversations this year have spotlighted the pressures created by the unnatural and unbudgeted deaths of the overdose crisis.

Bodies on top of bodies in the Duval County Medical Examiner’s office.

Tuesday saw the Jacksonville City Council Finance Committee discuss facilities, including short-term and long-term solutions.

The short-term fix would be cooling trailers, but Medical Examiner Valerie Rao is angling for a new building.

That concept has support from Finance Chair Garrett Dennis, who believes the project should be prioritized in the city’s capital improvement plan.

However, Rao nettled other Finance members by not having outlined the business case for the new building with specifics.

The building she suggested as a model — in Orlando — cost $16 million to build in 2010.

Jax Council candidate blames sexual harassment on female ‘libido’

Jacksonville City Council candidate Earl Testy may be losing the money race to fellow Republican opponent Randy DeFoor in District 14; however, he certainly is garnering earned media.

But not for reasons any sane person would want.

Testy took a provocative position on the current tsunami of sexual harassment charges Monday.

Testy took women to task, asserting “they have themselves and their libidos to blame for much of their own abuse by men.”

“Feminists have no more call to be proud of their abuse of sex than men do, albeit seemingly passive,” Testy asserted.

Testy equated the current spate of revelations with “Gay Pride logic.”

“Sin is sin,” Testy asserted, “regardless of male, female, homosexual or heterosexual orientation.”

Testy advanced his insights in reaction to an article on National Review Online by longtime conservative pundit Mona Charen, a woman who has never asserted that the female libido is “to blame.”

Terror plot foiled

In custody right now: A Filipino national who was willing to die to kill as many people as possible at the Islamic Center of Northeast Florida.

Per CBS News, 69-year-old Bernandino Gawala “Nandie” Bolatete was arrested this week for possessing an unregistered silencer, a federal crime.

Bernandino Bolatete, a foreign national, was stateside on a green card.

Bolatete, a gun enthusiast, had a purpose in mind.

“I just want to give these freaking people a taste of their own medicine, you know,” the foreign national told an undercover detective.

“The suppressor is not really that ‘quiet’ but it can be used on the 4th of July or New Year (sic) time, it can easily blend with the sound of fireworks,” Bolatete added.

Per Action News Jax, Bolatete’s lawyer argued that this was just “talk,” but as one might expect when a foreign national travels to the states to kill a bunch of Americans, his bond request was rejected, and he’s still in lockdown.

Forever Florida, St. Johns proposals get Senate backing

Measures that would double Gov. Rick Scott‘s spending request for the Florida Forever conservation program and earmark money to improve the St. Johns River continued to move easily through the Senate on Thursday.

The Senate Environment and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee unanimously backed a proposal (SB 370) to designate $100 million a year for Florida Forever. Also, it approved a bill (SB 204) that would increase annual funding for springs projects from $50 million to $75 million and set aside $50 million a year for the restoration of the St. Johns River, its tributaries and the Keystone Heights lake region in North Florida.

Both proposals are sponsored by Sen. Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican who is chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, which will hear the bills next.

“Our state is known for a lot of things, but the character of the state, the true character of the state is defined by its rivers, it’s beaches, it’s springs,” Bradley said. “We have an obligation to make sure future generations enjoy those wonderful gifts we get to enjoy.”

Neither proposal has a companion bill in the House. Scott requested spending $50 million on Florida Forever as part of his proposed 2018-2019 budget released last month.

Money for both Senate bills would come from the state’s Land Acquisition Trust Fund. Voters in 2014 approved a constitutional amendment that requires a portion of real-estate “documentary stamp” tax revenues to go toward land and water conservation, with the money funneled through the trust fund.

That portion of the documentary-stamp tax is expected to generate $862.2 million next fiscal year, according to an August estimate by state economists.

Lawmakers in the past have carved up part of the annual funding so at least $200 million goes for Everglades projects, another $64 million goes for a reservoir in the Everglades Agricultural Area south of Lake Okeechobee and $5 million goes to the St. Johns River Water Management District for projects dedicated to the restoration of Lake Apopka.

But they have also used the money to cover agency expenses, which backers of the 2014 constitutional amendment contend is not allowed.

Bradley has said a review needs to be done to determine how much of the trust fund goes into agency overhead.

Orlando Democratic Sen. Linda Stewart said she was “proud” to be able to vote for Florida Forever bill, which would use the money “the way the voters had hoped to see it funded.”

The Florida Forever program was created in 1999 as a successor to an earlier version known as Preservation 2000.

Since 2001, Florida Forever has been used to purchase more than 718,000 acres for $2.9 billion. But the program has languished since the recession and as some key legislators have questioned the need for Florida to buy more land while struggling to manage the acres it already owns.

Lawmakers didn’t direct any money to Florida Forever for the current fiscal year, which began July 1. Bradley’s bills are filed for the 2018 Legislative Session, which starts next month.

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